Jailhouse Rock (Acts 12:1-18)

By | April 28, 2013



     Sing Sing, Leavenworth, Alcatraz, Riker’s Island, Angola, Folsum, Attica,  San Quentin, Devil’s Island, Dachau, the Gulags of Russia, the Tower of London,  and Robben Island are just a few of the most famous prisons around the world. We know them because of their reputation or the horrific conditions or because it was portrayed in a song or a movie. Each one of these famous prisons was designed to keep criminals locked away from society as punishment for their crimes.

     But there are less famous prisons that lock people away, too. You may not know the names of these prisons because many of them only have one cell. They have names such as Strayhorn Penitentiary, Jones Correctional Facility, Smith Detention Center, Kirby Jail, Ford Prison, and the Middleton Institute  for the Criminally Insane. (Sorry Robin, I couldn’t pass that up.)

     These one cell prisons hold us and bind us as much as any physical facility in the world, yet they are portable prisons, portable cells of our own design, cells that hold us captive until we’re set free. How do we get out? How can we be set free?


Acts 12:1-18 (NRSV)

[1] About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church.

[2] He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.

[3] After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.)

[4] When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover.

[5] While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.

[6] The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison.

[7] Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists.

[8] The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”

[9] Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision.

[10] After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him.

[11] Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

[12] As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying.

[13] When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer.

[14] On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate.

[15] They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.”

[16] Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed.

[17] He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, “Tell this to James and to the believers.” Then he left and went to another place.

[18] When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter.

[19] When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 

     That event made the Jailhouse Rock. I love how Scripture describes it: there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter.” That’s such a great way to describe the chaos, panic and uproar that happened. And a perfect example of understatement.

     Now, there are any number of things we could talk about just from reading this passage. We could talk about the randomness of evil and pain, we’ve experienced that in the last couple of weeks. We could talk about persecution or Angels. We could talk about the power of prayer because it certainly plays a very big part in Peter’s deliverance.

     Like Peter, we often find ourselves tossed into a prison cell. Often times it comes just as suddenly. However, there is one major difference. Peter was arrested and forced into captivity and imprisonment by Herod. Most of the time we willingly step into the cell and submit ourselves to the torture we know is waiting there. We do it without a second thought.

     So, today I want us to look at the prisons and cells of our own creation that hold us captive and keep us imprisoned. I want to look at those chains that bind us and how Christ can set us free. You see, God wants to free us from those self-imposed prisons just like he did Peter. The door is open, it always has been. We just have to figure that out.


     Some of the world’s greatest men and women have been saddled with disabilities and adversities that would have imprisoned anybody else. However, through their faith and determination these people managed to step out of those prisons and overcome.

     Strike her with a disease which would leave her deaf and blind when she was less than two years old and you have a Helen Keller.

     Strike him down with infantile paralysis, and he becomes a Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

     Burn him so severely in a schoolhouse fire that the doctors say he will never walk again, and you have a Glenn Cunningham, who set a world’s record in 1934 for running a mile in 4 minutes, 6.7 seconds.

     Take his leg in a hunting accident and you have Monty Stratton, a major league pitcher who played in the 1937 All Star Game but who came back with a wooden leg to play again in the minor leagues and work with the White Sox as a coach and batting practice pitcher.

     Have him or her born black in a society filled with racial discrimination, and you have a Booker T. Washington, a Harriet Tubman, a Marian Anderson, or a George Washington Carver.

     Have him born of parents who survived a Nazi concentration camp, paralyze him from the waist down when he is four, and you have an incomparable concert violinist, Itzhak Perlman.

     Call him a slow learner, “retarded,” and write him off as ineducable, and you have an Albert Einstein.

     Have her born with club feet and take ballet and ice skating for physical therapy and you have an Olympic Gold Medalist like Kristi Yamaguchi.

     Each of those individuals could have been sealed in the cells and prisons of their adversity or disability but they saw the cell door open and through their faith, stepped into freedom.


     Most of the time the cells and prisons that bind us and hold us are of our own making. Decisions, attitudes, actions all of these can slap us into prisons and cells which seem inescapable.

      There’s a whole list of things that can imprison us in our own hearts and minds. Jealousy, Resentment, Lust, Gluttony, Covetousness or Envy. Then there’s the thirst for Power, Position or Prestige. Sometimes it’s just Possessions or an addiction to buying. Then there are the other addictions that take control of our lives and begin to be the wardens of our souls: Addictions to Alcohol, Tobacco, Drugs, Prescription Drugs, Sex, Pornography, and Gambling.

     Then there are simply those attitudes that imprison our souls. Attitudes like Prejudice and an Unforgiving Spirit. Pope John Paul II said, “The worst prison could be a closed heart.”

     I think he was right, a closed heart has no room for anything but the burden of prejudice or the pain of an unforgiving spirit.

     T.D. Jakes said that, “Unforgiveness denies the victim (you) the possibility of parole and leaves them stuck in the prison of what was, incarcerating them in their trauma and relinquishing the chance to escape beyond the pain.”

     God doesn’t want us shut up in these prisons. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why he died on the cross. That’s why the stone was rolled away. The cross became the key. The empty tomb is not just a symbol of a far distant resurrection into eternal life, it is the symbol of resurrection and freedom today. The key, the cross of forgiveness, unlocks the cell in which we’ve entombed ourselves. The stone gate is rolled aside and Christ beckons us to come out. WATCH THIS.

     God wants to free us from those self-imposed prisons just like he freed Peter. Just like a Maple Syrup Can and a little water did for that young man. The door is open, it always has been.

     Two-Time Olympic Gold Medalist Bob Richards put it like this: “One reason why I think a great deal of Jesus is . . . He never pointed out the weaknesses of people and never dwelt on their failures and shortcomings. He always thought of the dream that God had for their lives. Never emphasizing their failures, He simply said, Go and sin no more. Be what God intends you to be.'” (1)

     We can’t be what God intends us to be if we stay locked up in our self-imposed prisons. The door is open, it always has been.


     The poet Henry Van Dyke put it this way. He said:

          “Self is the only prison that can ever bind the soul;

          Love is the only angel who can bid the gates unroll;

          And when he comes to call thee, arise and follow fast;

          His way may lie through darkness, But it leads to light at last.”

     And where does the way of Jesus lead us? First to the Cross of Calvary to remind us of the deep abiding, unconditional love God has for us. And then the door of the cell, the prison, the tomb into which we’ve locked ourselves away. God gave us His own Son. He has the key. And he beckons us, “Come Out. Be Free.”

     God wants to free us from whatever prisons hold us, just like he did for Peter. The door is open, it always has been. Step into Freedom, let the Jailhouse Rock tonight. Step out of your prisons cell and dance with Jesus the dance of new life and resurrection. The Dance of Freedom.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. “Words of Wisdom from Great Olympics.” Quotations excerpted from the Day Brightener (TM) Calendar Sports Shorts by Jay Carty, published by Garborg’s.